If your chocolate chip cookies look like they should be served with maple syrup (a la pancakes), you’ve come to the right place!
There’s nothing I like better than a warm chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven.
My mother’s were delicious mounds of walnuts, cranberries, and semisweet morsels with moist centers and crisp edges.
Mine, on the other hand, used to look like chocolate chip pancakes – until I figured out why.
At times, you’re actually meant to have flat cookies, like with our oatmeal lace desserts. But with most cookie recipes, you need to achieve those perfectly risen, tasty delights.
We’ve put together a list of handy tips that will give you more control over your baking, and greater satisfaction with the results. Grab your oven mitts and let’s get started!
Traditional Chocolate Chips
We all have our favorites, from Original Tollhouse to white chocolate macadamia. But the basic ingredients usually go something like this:
- Baking soda
- Brown sugar
- Chocolate chips
- Optional add-ins like nuts or raisins
- White sugar
The procedure generally calls for combining the dry ingredients, then the wet, and then the two together.
Chips go in last. Then the dough is dropped by the spoonful onto baking sheets, and placed into a 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.
In a nutshell, that’s the basic procedure. However, there’s more than meets the eye when these ingredients blend magically to become gooey, delicious treats.
So where do we go wrong when cookies come out flat?
Read on. You may be surprised!
9 Tips to Remember
Baking is challenging, there’s no doubt about it. However, when we understand a little about how ingredients combine and work together, we begin to see how to improve our techniques.
With the following handy hints, you’ll be baking the chocolate chip cookies of your dreams!
1. Use Real Butter and Keep It Cool
The low melting point of butter may be what makes your cookies flat.
Butter is a saturated animal fat, and it’s temperamental. Take it out of the fridge to soften up, and get started the minute it’s workable.
Cream it gently with the sugars until you have a light, fluffy consistency. Don’t overwork it.
Butter that melts prematurely is responsible for many a flat cookie. Managing it is the basis for most of our tips that follow.
Real butter requires some finessing, but the taste and texture can’t be beat.
Whatever you do, don’t use butter substitutes or margarines. They contain too much moisture and tend to spread even more than butter will.
2. Use Shortening
Alternatively, you can avoid the fickle yellow sticks altogether and opt for shortening.
This vegetable fat has a higher melting point, so it doesn’t make cookies spread out like butter can.
However, it doesn’t contain moisture like butter, so it doesn’t go through the same magical process of gluten formation that gives the chewy bite and classic flavor to the traditional chocolate chip.
Some bakers use half butter and half shortening. It’s your call, but read all of the tips below before jumping on the shortening bandwagon!
3. Chill Dough Twice
Once your dough is mixed, put the bowl of dough in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes. Then spoon the cool dough out onto your baking sheets – a word about them in a minute.
If you have room, place the whole cookie sheet full of portioned dough into the fridge for another 10 minutes or so. Then put the pan into a preheated oven to bake.
Remember that butter has a low melting point. That means it has a tendency to start to melt while we are still making the dough, and before it hits the oven.
By keeping it chilled, melting is delayed until the cookie begins to rise and bake, resulting in a thicker final product.
4. Use Parchment Paper or a Silicone Liner
Line baking pans with parchment paper or Silpat nonstick liners, or use nonstick pans instead of greasing. There’s enough fat in the dough already, and we want to inhibit spreading.
Silpat is the highest quality silicone tray liner on the market. Available on Amazon.
If you use parchment, change sheets between batches. And don’t forget to read our review of Silpats and other top-quality silicone pan liners here.
Also, let pans cool completely between batches. Placing dough on warm sheets will cause the butter to begin to melt.
If you skip this step, the cookies will start to spread before they have a chance to rise, and you’ll have pancakes again.
5. Measure Precisely
Proper proportions are crucial to a good outcome, so be sure to measure carefully. Use dry measuring cups for dry ingredients, so you can level them off.
When measuring flour, don’t pack it down. Instead, tap the measuring cup against your counter to eliminate air pockets. Level off with a straight-edged spatula or knife for accuracy.
White sugar and baking soda may have lumps. These may be sifted and measured, as with flour.
Brown sugar should be packed firmly into your measuring cup, and levelled off. It can be lumpy as well, and these lumps should be removed before packing to measure.
Recipes are based on how ingredients react chemically, rising and binding to create delicious food. Even a slight shortage in the amount of flour will throw off the rising portion of the recipe, producing a flatter result.
Keep in mind that standard substitutions won’t always produce the same results that you’re looking for. If you’re looking to produce a dairy-free or gluten-free batch of biscuits for the first time, set Grandma’s recipe aside and rely on a tested and trusted resource to get the proportions just right.
6. Use Fresh Baking Soda
Baking soda is a leavening agent, which means that it causes baked goods to rise.
Little bubbles of carbon dioxide are released, making air pockets that create a light texture.
If yours is past its expiration date, it might not react chemically with your ingredients, leaving you with a flat, dense result.
7. Use Optional Add-Ins
Maybe your recipe is like mine and it suggests an optional cup of an additional item like nuts, raisins, peanut butter chips, or the like.
Did you ever wonder why a recipe can take or leave an entire cup of an ingredient without affecting its outcome?
The fact is, the outcome is affected. Without these chunky additions, a cookie tends to be flatter.
You can even add another cup of chocolate morsels for more bulk.
8. Buy an Oven Thermometer
After preparing a few batches of cookies that just wouldn’t finish baking, I finally realized that my oven temperature gauge was inaccurate.
Rubbermaid Commercial FGTHO550 Stainless Steel Oven Monitoring Thermometer
I purchase an oven thermometer, and now I adjust my baking temperature setting accordingly.
An oven temp below 350°F is too low for cookie baking. Your butter will begin to melt, and you’ll have pancakes again.
9. Don’t Bake in the Rain
If you’re like me, you love to bake on chilly, wet days.
After all, there’s nothing like a little warmth and the smell of something yummy in the oven to make the house cozy, right?
But did you know that humidity in the air can have an effect on flour?
That’s right. It can absorb moisture, causing it to clump. When measured out, it may compact. And that means you’ll use more than you need.
Damp flour also adds moisture to a recipe, unbalancing that carefully calculated ratio of ingredients. More wetness can mean flatter cookies.
Even with my flour in an airtight container, I still don’t like the way my cookies turn out on wet days.
Note What Works
Cooking is quirky, and baking, even more so. With these handy tips, your pancake days should be over.
Remember to read recipes all the way through before you begin to bake, and measure ingredients carefully.
With all items set out and ready to combine, go back and reread your recipe. Then concentrate on the tips as you go. Make notes and evaluate your results.
And if all else fails… don’t even bother turning on the oven. Make our super easy, super simple no-bake chocolate butter balls.
Drop us a note in the comments about how you’re doing.
And don’t forget to browse through all of our cookie recipes and check out more baking guides!
Photo credits: Shutterstock. Product photos courtesy of Silpat and Newell Brands.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer from southeastern Pennsylvania. When she’s not in the garden, she’s in the kitchen preparing imaginative gluten- and dairy-free meals. With a background in business, writing, editing, and photography, Nan writes humorous and informative articles on gardening, food, parenting, and real estate topics. Having celiac disease has only served to inspire her to continue to explore creative ways to provide her family with nutritious locally-sourced food.
27 thoughts on “9 Quick Tips to Say Goodbye to Flat Chocolate Chip Cookies”
Great recipe. Just when you think that you’ve found all of the good choc chip recipes. Thanks for sharing it.
What does cream of tartar and baking powder do to a cookie recipe?
Cream of tartar is usually used for stabilizing egg whites, and both ingredients can be used for leavening. You can read more about baking powder here.
Thank you for the information on chocolate chip cookies going flat I have been making them for years but since I have moved to Georgia I have not made a decent chocolate chip cookie. I blamed it on my new gas oven, thank you again.
Hi Janice –
We’re so glad you found the article informative. Humidity can definitely take a toll! Wishing you much happiness and cooking success in your new home!
Nan, I couldn’t find any contact for you anywhere online except for here, so this is my best shot to express my gratitude for the most clear and encompassing review of any flower that I have ever researched. I am referring to your balloon flower review on Gardener’s Path. My new search-engine phrase: Nan Schiller (insert name of flower here). Thank you very much.
Hello Gary –
We’re so glad you have discovered Gardener’s Path and found the balloon flower article informative. It was very kind of you to post. Happy gardening!
Hi Nan, my cookies definitely fell flat and I cannot figure out exactly why. Any gut instincts as to what the culprit might be?
Hi Laura –
My first thought is that if it’s pouring rain at your house, like it is right now at mine, they may not have risen properly. Also, your baking powder or soda may be outdated and out of oomph. If you used a non-dairy margarine instead of a butter, which contains more fat, they may have spread instead of risen. And finally, your oven may be “slow,” or not as warm as the indicator says it is. Good luck with the next batch! The more you bake, the better you get at understanding what’s going right – and not so right.
Can I add baking soda or flour to cake mix cookies to help them rise and if so how much?
Hi Jeanne – When using a cake mix to bake cookies, you generally make up the mix and add something like chips or sprinkles, and don’t add any additional leavening.
Thanks for the tips on flat cookies. I couldn’t figure out why they are flat sometimes and raised other times. I will remember your tips. Thanks
I used my KitchenAid mixer, should I mix by hand? Cookies flat, I think I over mixed, and I did not add nuts and didn’t add additional flour.
As a tip for dry cookies, I add a little applesauce to my batter and I always have terrific cookies. Just a 1/4 cup will do the job. I very much enjoyed reading the article and will try a few recipes later today! Thank you for the information!
I keep my flour in the fridge. I usually set it out the day before. Should I keep my flour out of the fridge? I will use your helpful tips next time. This time was a flop and I went looking for help. Thanks!
Refrigerator or freezer storage is an excellent idea for ingredients like flour, since this will help to extend the shelf life. And because flour doesn’t contain much moisture, it comes back to room temperature quickly, so you don’t need to worry about defrosting before baking.
Can I use bread flour instead of all purpose flour for my choc chip cookies?
Yes, you can! But note that depending on the recipe, this will probably result in a chewier or more cake-like finished product.
Thanks for these tips – I wish I’d read them BEFORE my cookies went flat! I think in my case, I didn’t use enough flour. I bake with gluten-free flour and I’m always concerned about my cookies coming out dry and crumbly. I followed the recipe on my bag of GF flour, and I think just a little more flour would’ve helped. My dough seemed very soft. Oh well – I’m going to press these pancake cookies into a 13×9 pan & cut them into bars. They’ll still taste good!
What will cornstarch do in a choc chip cookie recipe? How much should you use?
Cornstarch helps to prevent wheat protein from becoming overdeveloped in baking, creating a softer, more tender texture in the finished product. But of course, avoiding overmixing helps immensely with this as well.
The amount that you need to add will depend on the recipe that you choose to use, or you could look for a recipe that was designed to use cornstarch to ensure that you get the proportions exactly right. Roughly 2 teaspoons of cornstarch per 2 cups of flour seems to be the norm- I’m sorry I can’t provide a more exact measurement for you!
Thanks so much for these tips. I can see where I am going wrong. I soften my butter in microwave; I probably overmix my butter and sugar; and I put my raw dough on cookie sheets that come out of a hot oven. I am old and am just learning this stuff. Where have you been all my life!!!
Hi Linda –
You’re welcome. We’re so glad you found the article useful. Welcome to Foodal. Happy baking!
I use a baking stone, parchment paper works well on these, it lets the excess moisture leave through the stone and not go back into the cookie, causing it to flatten. My cookies come out nice and tall like bakery cookies!
Hi Kate –
Thank you for sharing this excellent tip!
My mother taught me years ago to use half shortening half butter on my cookie recipes. Also I’ve learned to use a good quality chocolate chip. The oil that they are made from is very different.
Hello Carol –
Yes, half shortening and half butter is a winning combination that also works well for flaky pie crusts.
And you are absolutely right about variations among chocolate chip products. Quality varies, as well as type of chocolate.
Thank you for sharing!